‘Nursing Sustainability by Design’ is entering its second full year, having undergone a pilot phase and then a roll out to around 350 nursing and midwifery undergraduates in 2013. Already it is creating interest, with the academic leads invited to present their findings at major international conferences, and a shortlisting in the Green Gown Awards – the most prestigious awards programme for sustainability in education.
Professor Janet Richardson has been one of the driving forces behind the project, working with colleagues in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, and those in Education for Sustainable Development and the School of Architecture, Design and Environment to ensure the module is now embedded in the curriculum.
“Many items used in everyday health practice are made from natural materials that are finite or affected by climate change or other geopolitical factors,” Janet says. “They are an intrinsic part of our health system, and how we use and dispose of them goes beyond a simple cost-based discussion for healthcare and becomes something of significance to the planet.”
“By bringing together our nursing and design students, we are challenging their assumptions, and using their different perspectives to do something really different,” adds Janet Kelsey, Associate Professor in Health Studies. “It’s unlike anything else in nursing education in the country.”
It is during the clinical skills sessions, where nurses learn some of the practical abilities they’ll need during their careers, that the design students are brought in to observe, and then later take part in discussions around sustainability. They are then encouraged to respond holistically, generating a range of ideas to innovate product and packaging at a local or industry-wide level.
“We have put a lot of commitment into embedding sustainability in our design curriculum,” says Mike Woods, Lecturer in 3D Design. “And we’re always looking for ways to make that relevant and exciting for the students. If we can find collaborative practice that shows this is shared thinking, collectively we can address complex and challenging issues in a way that isn’t a ‘disaster scenario’. It can be about opportunities to improve the world we live in.”
Even in the space of one year, two prototypes have been developed and are being tested by students and academics. They include a device to re-seal packaging and a re-usable clinical dressing pack, both of which could potentially assist with training and practising skills and reducing waste.
“We have a great team who have really embraced sustainability and together we think we have found a way to teach students about how their practice affects and is impacted by climate change and natural resource depletion.”
Dr Jane Grose, Research Fellow in Sustainability, adds:
“I think the most significant things we have achieved are that we have developed a way of teaching sustainability to nurses that is relevant to their practice and changes attitudes, and that students learn to work with other disciplines which is something they will need to do when they have qualified. The fact that our students are co-creating sustainable solutions and actual products that we can test and commercialise is a testament to the way they have embraced it.”
While the Nursing and Midwifery Council has yet to recommend that nurses and midwives have knowledge and skills relating to sustainability, Janet sees it as the University’s duty to prepare its graduates so that they can adapt and thrive in changing environments.